12.21.2008

An Open Letter to U.S. Airways in Which I Admit to Two Mistakes, but in Which They Are Mean and Inconsistent

As many of you know, Arden and I were looking forward to a nice long trip home for the holidays this year. I'd put in a lot of hours at work just before we were to leave and wasn't really thinking through all of my details, which led us to

MISTAKE 1: Not reserving pet airfare early enough.

Did you know there are a limited number of pets allowed on board an aircraft? It was news to me, since my dog also counts as my "carry-on baggage," which is not limited except to 1 item in other circumstances. I mistakenly assumed we would be in the clear.

Tory at U.S. Airways phone support corrected me and said there was no way I could take my dog on my flight from National Airport to Sky Harbor.

I almost broke down and cried (if this were America's Next Top Model, you'd be keeping track of this) right then. But after several minutes of begging Tory for any other option, she said she could check other flights from Baltimore. She found one for me leaving the same time and arriving slightly earlier with pet vacancy. I took it and paid the $300 change fee and pet airfare.

I then changed my SuperShuttle reservation to take me to the different airport at the same time. My return flight would still be National.

Then, Arden and I went to sleep, nervously awaiting our trip.

SuperShuttle came and got me at the appointed time and took us to the airport. Just as I approached the check-in kiosk, a stern ticket agent looked at me and said, "You can't take a dog on a plane like that. That carrier's too small."

I was like, "WHUH-HUH??" Arden was in the carrier she used when we flew U.S. Airways from National to Sky Harbor for Thanksgiving. I thought back to the myriad U.S. Airways employees who looked right at her and said things like, "Awww, what a sweetheart!" and "She looks so comfy in there."

Okay, so I started getting a little irate. "What the f---?" I asked, except it wasn't he f-word. But it felt like the f-word, if you know what I mean.

Then I almost cried again. I turned beet red and I demanded to know what I was supposed to do, citing our earlier trip on their airline. They did not care. "You'll have to take her home," they said plainly. "Or go over to United and see if you can buy a larger carrier."

I trundled my enormous suitcase over to the United counter and explained my situation to the very kind gate agent there. She pulled out their duffle carrier, but it wasn't much bigger than mine. The other option was a kennel, a huge one, that would need to be checked. But since U.S. Airways doesn't check animals, it didn't matter unless I changed airlines.

I went back and coerced a gate agent into going over to the United counter with me to examine the other carrier. She demurred, saying it was also too small. She then offered to go get her manager so he could tell me know, so I waited patiently for fifteen minutes until he came out.

MISTAKE 2: Read carefully, and frequently.

Throughout this ordeal, I was insistent that I had followed the guidelines on their website, which I thought I had. I told this to the manager, and he came out five minutes later with a print out of the website, where it said pets needed to be able to stand up.

I immediately opted to take a full refund of my fare rather than change my flight to the next day. At this point, I did not want to fly their skies ever again. I'd been flying U.S. Airways for eight years almost exclusively, had their credit card, and had racked up a bunch of miles with them.

I thought back to my Thanksgiving trip, floating blissfully through check-in, security, the gate, and wondered if everything would have been different if I'd simply gotten my pet airfare earlier.

I wandered back over to the United desk, where I knew I could check her in the baggage compartment. "I'd like a ticket to Phoenix." The gate agent--not the friendly lady who helped me--looked at me bemusedly, crackled his fingers over his keys and said, in understatement, "This is not a great day not to have a reservation." Nothing.

Arden and I wandered around the Baltimore airport together. I tried to make a plan. I was stranded at the airport. I had no ticket. I had few options. I called my parents, but they didn't pick up. For the next twenty minutes, I juggled the following phone calls in various succession: my brother, Beau, my sister-in-law, my friend Joe, and Joe's dogsitter. My brother was scanning pet air travel guidelines, Beau was offering support, my sister-in-law was running the phone between my brother and me while also calling my other brother's girlfriend (a U.S. Airways flight attendant) for support.

It boiled down to this: Arden was not flying again. Today or any day. U.S. Airways said the "stand-up" rule was a federal regulation, and my brother said checking her was too dangerous. Thanks to Joe, I got connected with his dogsitter, who sounded very kind on the phone and agreed to take her. My brother got me on a flight today--on Southwest, who doesn't take animals, but who also doesn't intermittently enforce their policies.

I'll also flesh out this story by adding that all I'd eaten by this point, by 5 pm, was a bowl of cereal. All day long. That was it. My head hurt, I was dehydrated, defeated. I had been sweating. I had been emotional. I had been driven to the brink of what I could handle in a single 24-hour period and I was ready to drop.

Arden and I lumbered down to the SuperShuttle counter, where I paid another fare to go back home, where I would then cancel my return airport shuttle in January and sign up for two more with my new airfare. We sat for half an hour, rode for half an hour, and then ended up back in the apartment.

Since then I've been trying to tell her to be a good girl and behave, and sorry she can't go home with me for Christmas.

What kills me is that my dog, who is otherwise treated as "luggage," has to be able to stand up, but babies can sit in laps....? It kills me because babies are less well-trained and are far messier than my little girl. And yet.

Thanks, U.S. Airways! You ruined Christmas.

At least we got that part of the holiday out of the way.

14 comments:

  1. Poor Arden. This is heartbreaking.

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  2. That is so horrible. :( I wish I could've been there to give people the evil eye and/or punch them.

    Isn't there a website with pet travel info, where one might commiserate?

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  3. Charlie, that sucks. I had a HORRIBLE time flying with my two cats from GA to AZ when we moved here. It was a total nightmare, but at least we eventually all got here.

    Re. your comment about babies on laps--the real travesty with that policy is that it's DANGEROUS. Not just for the babies--who become flying objects during turbulence. Come on, cheap ass people, buy a seat for your baby and strap 'em into their car seat. I did that every time with Jax and I can't tell you how many flight attendants thanked me (LOUDLY) while glaring at the folks with babies in their laps.
    Okay, rant over.
    I am so with you on customer service at our hometown carrier sucking a nut.

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  4. I've thought about taking Isis with me. This sounds like a true nightmare. Sorry to hear about it. May better times come soon in time for a good holiday.

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  5. I feel so sorry for you and your beautiful dog! I don't know why flying with a pet should have to be so miserable.

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  6. Charlie,
    That's really rotten. I'm sorry you had to go through that. Sheesh.

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  7. awwwwwwwwwwww

    check this:

    http://www.amazon.com/Dear-American-Airlines-Jonathan-Miles/dp/0547054017/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1229917328&sr=8-1

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  8. Sorry you had to go through this krud!

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  9. Seems strange that there's a regulation that pets need to be able to stand up (borderline unnecessary anyway) but nothing about babies.

    US Airways lost my luggage when I flew them earlier this month.

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  10. I think my awful travel karma rubbed off on you!

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  11. That's a terrible story, Charlie. I really hate flying now. It's such an incredible pain in the ass and everyone is so damn rude about it.

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  12. In all my moves across the country, I had to drive my cats because of all the rules for traveling with animals (I refuse to check them as luggage).

    Poor Arden. I'm just glad I live close enough to my parents that I can take a train or drive. It is so much better than flying.

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  13. Terrible! If you want to for future flights, try Midwest Airlines if they're in your area. They have the best "Premiere Pet" flying service and record in the country.

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